Civic News

For Pittsburgh Passport’s fourth year, the goal remains: Retain local talent

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development program has been found to increase the local offer-to-hire ratio by 30%, indicating its engaging programming for students and recent graduates works.

Pittsburgh Passport participants at an event with local employer PNC Bank.

(Courtesy photo)

Pittsburgh’s internship social program is back.

Now in its fourth year, the Pittsburgh Passport brings together college interns across a wide range of locally based companies for social events and activities meant to show just how “livable” Pittsburgh is. The motivation behind the program, aside from simply providing a chance for young professionals to have fun, is to encourage those who pursue internships here to consider staying long-term, keeping top talent in the city.

The program’s architect is the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which has called the Passport its “marquee program,” despite only launching it in 2019. It’s a sign that, among the Allegheny Conference’s myriad other responsibilities — running the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh — efforts to retain talent in Pittsburgh remain a top priority.

The idea is that by displaying the city’s wealth of arts, culture, green space, restaurants and affordability, those who were once considering moving to larger metropolitans after college will instead commit to coming back to Pittsburgh after their internships.

And that’s a real problem for the region. Despite over 40,000 new graduates coming out of local colleges and universities each year, data from the Allegheny Conference show that around 50% of those move to other cities after graduation. Focus groups held by the organization after discovering this data revealed that many students were unaware of Pittsburgh’s cultural attractions, the lack of immersive social experiences for interns offered by companies with small programs, and the lower overall diversity of Pittsburgh compared to major metropolitans. The Passport is the Allegheny Conference’s answer to most of those challenges.

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Since its launch four years ago, “each year, we have seen the Passport grow — both in terms of employers collaborating on talent and the number and geographic range of the students who participate,” Allegheny Conference CEO and 2022 RealLIST Connectors honoree Stefani Pashman said in a statement. “We know from our research, the more participants see, the more they love this region. That’s why the Passport is so focused on fully immersing our college student population in all the region has to offer.”

Since launching in 2019, the program has engaged over 5,000 college students from a total of 39 states and 41 countries, including Singapore, Spain, Italy and Kenya, according to the Allegheny Conference. Even with the remote work trends and safety risks caused by the pandemic over the past two years, the Passport was able to engage students across in-person, hybrid and virtual events. Overall, 40% of the students who have participated so far have been from diverse backgrounds, according to the organization.

Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers published an impact report on the first two years of the program — one of which was 2020, the first summer of the pandemic. Outside of the insights mentioned above, the report found that the Passport played a role in increasing local job offer acceptance. In its first two years alone, the program upped the offer-to-hire ratio at participating companies by 30%, and exit interviews showed that interns had increased overall satisfaction from their summers in Pittsburgh. The Passport’s emphasis on diversity also showed that it’s working to build a more diverse talent pipeline for Pittsburgh from the entry point.

The Allegheny Conference hopes to continue and build on those trends this summer. The Passport will once again provide a mixture of in-person and virtual events, partially to address safety concerns related to the ongoing pandemic, but also to afford access to the program for students or recent graduates who can’t physically be in Pittsburgh. The agenda so far includes a tour of autonomous vehicle company Argo AI, a personal branding workshop, a Pittsburgh Pirates game, yoga at Highmark Stadium, a night at the Warhol Museum, an evening at Phipps Conservatory, a diversity-focused event with Vibrant Pittsburgh and a walking food tour of Lawrenceville.

“Pittsburgh competes with cities from around the world for the talent that’s critical to every growing business and region,” said Eric Boughner, BNY Mellon Pennsylvania chairman and Allegheny Conference’s Talent Steering Committee chair, in a statement. “With the Passport, employers here are collaborating, rather than competing, for talent and we think this approach will put us in the lead as students choose their destinations after college.”


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-
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